Top positive review
on 14 February 2016
There are many reasons to read and enjoy Ian Kelly’s life of Samuel Foote, a one legged actor of the 177s who has languished too long in the wings. Foote is interesting and relevant. He was versatile - crime writer, wit, celebrity, satirist, playwright; he was known - friend of Dr Johnson, the Doctors Hunter, Garrick and Benjamin Franklin; his story blends comedy and tragedy in equal measure and hints at the birth of celebrity culture. Foote is a puzzle, his sexuality, at times his motives, and the nature of what ailed him are not clear, though Kelly has theiories on all of these matters. While a standby of theatrical folklore Foote has for long been unknown outside the world of theatre for too long. This book does justice to his stoiry. The author has written lives of Casanova and Beau Brummell and so knows eighteenth century London well. His other career as an actor gives him insights and empathies into Foote’s working life. If the language is sometimes flowery it is hard to write of Foote without excess. Foote’s life is rather more interesting than his play, having ploughed through sevevral of his plays, the subject of so much extemporisation and topical reference, they read coldly now. His witticisms, repartee and impressions often seem cruel and I am not sure I would have enjoyed his company. His rise from debtor’s prison writing an account of family fratricide, his progress to have one of the three royal theatre patents in London bestowed on him, and bearing the name of the Theatre Royal Haymarket to this day though it was only a lifetime gift, his triumph over disabling accident and his disgrace following a criminal trial that he won are the stuff of drama, and indeed Kelly penned a play based on this biography that ran last year in Foote’s own theatre, the actor being played by the most excellent Simon Russel Beale and the King by the author himself. Methodism, madness, celebrity trials, sodomy, blackmail, disability, theatre history, family strife, debt, class, honour and uncontrolled mass media make this a heady and oh so enjoyable read. The Foote notes are helpful to anyone wanting to read up on the source material and the glossary of names is revealing and gossipy.